Some salons have a strict and detailed uniform policy and supply the uniform that must be worn. In this case, there is a need for rules, such as the period before replacements are issued or what happens when the uniform is damaged. Others explain what is not acceptable – for example, no trainers – rather than defining what must be worn.
If a uniform is mandatory, the employer normally provides it. Some have fallen foul of minimum wage regulations by requiring employees to contribute. This most commonly occurs where a weekly deduction from pay means the employee has effectively been paid below minimum wage.
Dress policies for men and women don’t have to be identical, but standards should be equivalent. Avoid gender-specific rules – any requirement to wear make-up or skirts, or to have manicured nails or certain hairstyles is likely to be unlawful because it treats women less favourably than men.
You must also beware of dress codes that could lead to harassment, so any requirements for women to dress in a provocative manner, for example, are likely to be unlawful.
There may also be circumstances where you make an exception to your dress code to accommodate the needs of a disabled, or pregnant, employee. Transgender employees should be allowed to follow the dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity. If there is a uniform, they should be supplied with an option that suits them.
There are specific health and safety issues in a salon environment. For instance, many ban flip flops and some provide a tabard as “personal protective equipment”. If you require front-of-house staff or receptionists to dress smartly, this would be lawful even if your policy didn’t extend to your therapists.
You might have a dress code requiring tattoos to be hidden or piercings removed, but is this outdated? One in three young people have a tattoo and almost half of women aged 16-24 have a non-earlobe piercing. If you have this rule, it appears to discriminate against younger workers. During a recent discussion with salon owners, one said older clients wouldn’t like facial piercing. Another argued the opposite, saying some older, conservative clients had totally changed their view after having an interesting discussion with their therapist.
Personally, I think second-guessing the opinions of your clients is a risk not worth taking. Finally, you should be aware of the potential issues relating to religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.
Case in point
Many of the issues relating to dress codes overlap with discrimination. In a recent case, a hair salon owner allegedly refused to employ a hairdresser because she wore a headscarf.
The applicant, Bushra Noah, accused the salon owner, based in Central London, of religious discrimination after she failed to offer her a job. She was told she lived too far away (which is hardly an objective criteria). However, Bushra said on arriving for interview the owner was clearly shocked she wore a headscarf.
She won her case for indirect discrimination and was awarded £4,000 for “injury to feelings”. The salon owner said she wanted stylists to reflect the “funky, urban” image of her salon and showcase alternative hairstyles.
It was easy for the tribunal to conclude that “There was no specific evidence before us as to what would (for sure) have been the actual impact of the claimant working in her salon with her head covered at all times”.
You might believe clients are looking for a specific type of salon experience and try to profile your staff accordingly but an awareness of discrimination law is essential when you review your dress code.
David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.
Tel: 01302 563691 davidwrightpersonnel.co.uk